On what Thumper’s father told him

thumper

Thumper: He doesn’t walk very good, does he?

Thumper’s Mum: Thumper?

Thumper: Yes Momma? 

Thumper’s Mum: What did your father tell you this morning? 

Thumper: If you can’t say something nice…don’t say nothin’ at all. 

When I was growing up my mum would regularly say to me, ‘What did Thumper’s mum say?’ and I would repeat back to her the maxim that if you can’t say anything nice you shouldn’t say anything at all. Words to live by; not least because being nice doesn’t mean that you can’t give feedback and constructive criticism. (Before we go on, I think this is an apt moment to be clear that my mum didn’t get all of her parenting advice from Disney – sometimes she quoted Highlander at me too: There can be only one.)

You may be wondering where I’m going with this… Well, sometimes Edu-Twitter is an incredibly supportive place (I think especially of #teamenglish) and sometimes it isn’t the most friendly of spheres. I’ve seen plenty of blog posts by people explaining that they’ve been nervous to post before because they’ve been worried about how ideas might be received: worried about being accused of stating the obvious or being patronising or being arrogant. Equally, I’ve seen people unwilling to blog about their ideas (which might be better explained in a post than in 140 characters) for the same reasons. This seems a shame – who knows what we might be missing out on – but I understand that it takes a certain level of confidence to write a blog and share ideas.

Now clearly I have enough confidence to think that the things I’m doing in the classroom might be useful to other people and I’m clearly not put off by the prospect of criticism. I don’t pretend that the ideas I share are revolutionary and I don’t pretend that all of the ideas are my own. Most teaching ideas are built on things that we’ve seen elsewhere or a tweak of an activity we’ve picked up from somewhere (which is part of why I’m against teachers selling resources). I don’t get paid to blog and I do so purely out of a desire to share what works; hopefully help other people out and to help me reflect on my own practice. Lots of what I share is simple and can easily be adapted by other teachers for use in their own classroom. Some of the things I share might not be new to you – in which case you might better spend your time reading something else – but they might be new to other teachers and trainees.

I welcome feedback and want to be challenged in my thinking; I want to be the best teacher I can be. But I am taken aback when a few people choose to respond to blog posts with insults. It doesn’t happen often but I’ve had a bit of it recently in response to my post about speed-planning essays which I’m sharing as an example of some of the behaviour I see on Twitter that I think inhibits others:

insult-1

insult-2

Whilst I don’t expect everyone to be wowed by what I’m writing, I don’t see what’s to be gained from this. I find the first post particularly perplexing – why share something you think is pedestrian? As far as feedback goes it’s like the feedback you get from holding a microphone too close to a speaker: irritating and pointless. What am I meant to learn from this? Of course people have been planning poetry in broadly similar ways before now but I know that the post had something to offer because I had plenty of positive responses:

praise

And I’m a carrot kind of girl – knowing that other people want to use the ideas I share in their classroom encourages me to keep sharing. I won’t be dissuaded from posting because I get a bit of stick but I know that others might well be. Teaching is a profession that demands that we continually review and refine our practice. It’s made better when we share, support and encourage one another. It’s a demanding job. Let’s not bring each other down.

Let’s remember what Thumper’s father told him: If you don’t have anything nice, or constructive, to say then maybe don’t say it all.

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On our new whole-school literacy strategy

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When I took up my post as Head of English in September I also took on the responsibility for whole-school literacy. Thankfully my school gave me time to devise a new strategy and sent me on a fantastic course (Outstanding Leadership of Literacy: The Masterclass 2016) led by my former head, Geoff Barton. This, alongside reading ‘Don’t Call it Literacy’ (which I think every teacher should read), has really informed our new strategy which I share below.

Literacy Strategy 2017

‘Standards are raised only by changes which are put into direct effect by teachers and pupils in classrooms.’ Black and William (Inside the Black Box)

As teachers, we are all members of the Literacy Club and take our literacy habits for granted. We want all students to join the Literacy Club which we will achieve by making the implicit explicit. Here is our new 5 strand policy outlining what every teacher should be doing to improve literacy:

The Five Strands

  1. Give time for exploratory talk

Even our weakest year 9 students have thousands of words in their vocabulary. Students do not need access to a thesaurus to improve the vocabulary in their written work. Instead, we need to give students time to explore language e.g. by encouraging them to reject the first word that comes to mind and sharing ideas with a partner – we want them to see vocabulary as a continuum from which a writer is making a choice which is having an effect. Some choices will be silly – and that’s OK – we want them to play with language and see the way it works (or doesn’t).

Nick: I just wanted ask.

Continuum of alternatives to ‘ask’:

Interrogate  Examine  Probe  Query  Enquire  Request  Quiz  Query  Quiz Grill

Giving time for exploratory talk and oral rehearsal allows students to think and practise what they will write – they are likely to write better answers.

  1. Model good talk and expect students to answer in full sentences using Standard English

Students need to hear, use and be corrected in Standard English. There are many dialects but the dialect of power is Standard English. The default for students is to write how they talk. If they are talking in Standard English then they are more likely to write in Standard English.

Kathryn: What did you put into the petri dish?

Student: Potassium.

Kathryn: Full sentence answer…

Student: I put Potassium into the petri dish.

Kathryn: What’s another word for ‘put’?

We want students to be listening to vocabulary they won’t hear anywhere else. Teachers should use, define and repeat ambitious vocabulary when talking to students.

  1. Personalise reading in classrooms

We want to bring students into our world as readers from their world as outsiders – we need to normalise reading and create a culture where books are easily accessible. Where possible, we want to personalise reading e.g. this is a great book, Phil. The main character reminds me of you. Stick with it for at least 50 pages and then come tell me what you think.

A mini library in every classroom would be a great thing to work towards. These might include books the teacher likes themselves (and can recommend) or non-fiction texts (including booklets of articles) linked to the subject or topics studied. At KS3 all students are expected to read for 20 minutes every day as part of their English homework (read about this here)- other subjects can take advantage of this by directing students to texts they want them to read.

Encourage your team to borrow some of their favourite books from the library or bring in old copies from home.  You might also want to work with your teams to come up with some non-fiction texts you think might be worth adding to class libraries and sharing with students.

  1. Model writing for their pupils

This is not about providing ready-made exemplars for students of a ‘good model’ but, rather, making explicit the process of writing and modelling the process (the messier the better). Students need to be taught how to write like a Scientist (e.g. depersonalising writing) or like a Geographer. Modelling this process makes the implicit explicit – we can model that we are thinking of how to start and how to match our purpose etc. We can involve students in this process by asking them how we can make the writing better – students will see writing as a drafting process.

As part of this modelling we can show students how to write with power e.g. by starting paragraphs with short topic sentences (too often students equate complexity with success) or rejecting the first word that comes to mind.

  1. Teach key vocabulary and demystify the spelling

We need to teach key subject terminology (e.g. photosynthesis) but also key technical language AKA the language of power (e.g. the language of analysis, conjunctions). When we teach this vocabulary we ought to use this as an opportunity to demystify the spelling e.g. Can we come up with some ways to remember these spellings?

Mnemonics: Necessary – one collar two sleeves

Aural Cues: Government, February

Visualise: Believe

 

If you have any questions or feedback I’d be interested to hear it.

 

 

 

 

 

On speed-planning essays…

 

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A student example.

 

It is a perennial problem that students don’t seem to know how to revise for English exams. One of the things I’ve been doing with my year 11s is speed-planning essays. The idea is that, through regular practise, they speed up their thinking and their planning to better prepare them for tackling an essay in timed conditions. The more quickly students can select relevant details and make connections between poems the better; this is only going to happen if students have the opportunity to practise.

I thought I’d write a quick post about how I’ve approached speed-planning for Lit Paper 2 Section B of the AQA exam (comparing anthology poems) though it can be used for any Lit essay with any exam board. Please see my posts here and here with Lit essay stems to enable students to write endless exam questions of their own with which to revise.

Step 1: Write ‘Both’ statements about the anthology poems

Get students to write as many ‘Both statements’ as they can about any of the poems they have studied. They might link poems because of their message, tone, perspectives, ideas about conflict, ideas about power or even poetic devices. The more the merrier and you will sometimes end up with some pretty interesting connections as students rise to the challenge of writing as many as they can!

Both ‘Storm on the Island’ and ‘Exposure’ show the power of nature.

Both ‘Ozymandias’ and ‘My Last Duchess’ present the arrogance of men with power.

Both ‘Ozymandias’ and ‘London’ criticising ruling powers.

Step 2: Flip the statements into questions

Get students to take 3-5 ‘Both’ statements and flip them into questions in which one of the poems is named e.g.

Compare the ways poets the power of nature in ‘Storm on the Island’ and in one other poem from ‘Power and Conflict’.

Compare the ways poets present ideas about power and arrogance in ‘Ozymandias’ and in other poem from ‘Power and Conflict’.

Compare the ways poets present criticism of power in ‘London’ and in one other poem from ‘Power and Conflict’.

Of course some of the questions are more likely to appear in an exam paper and some may be so niche as to be very unlikely to appear. However, for this process it doesn’t really matter because what this task is about is increasing their thinking and planning speed. Having said that, it might be worth having a discussion about the validity of some of the questions written and what they think are the strengths/weaknesses of them – which students may appreciate once they’ve started trying to plan. Through this discussion you may start to build up a bank of ‘good’ questions and a bank of questions only evil examiners would set (though if they can think and plan for those then that’s a confidence boost, surely?).

Step 3: Model planning in 5 minutes

Pick a question that a student has written and write it up on the board. Give another student a timer (ideally a comedy egg timer or sand timer) and start the countdown. Now model how you can plan an essay in 5 minutes and make sure you talk through your thinking.

Here’s one I did in front of my class… (excuse the vile brown pen – I can’t find the pretty coloured ones at the moment).

modelling-planning

For this modelling I started by brainstorming (or whatever it’s called) all of the ways in which Heaney presented the power of nature in ‘Storm on the Island’ without really censoring myself – I don’t want students to dismiss an idea at this point that may prove fruitful – and then did the same for ‘Exposure’. Next I looked for points of comparison before quickly plotting the structure of my essay.

Step 4: Set the relay timer up

Now it’s over to the students to plan in 5 minutes. I’d normally do one after the other in pretty quick succession so students can learn very quickly where they need to speed up in the process – by the third or fourth plan they ought to have learnt from mistakes earlier on. In the first attempt, for example, students may not get past selecting details – and that’s OK because in the next attempt I bet they adjust so that they select fewer details so that they can get onto making links (which forces them to select the most important details).

If you’re feeling kind, give students a bit of time to write out their question before you start the 5 minutes for each plan.

Step 5: De-brief

What did they learn? What works? What doesn’t? Were some of the questions impossible? What does that tell us?

Step 6: Takeaways

  • Students now have 3-5 essay plans that they can write a paragraph or full essay for
  • Students now have a revision technique they can use – they can write their own questions and plan in timed conditions

Fancy giving speed-planning a whirl? I’d love to know how it goes!

 

 

On using Google Docs to track reading

This is a guest blog by Linda Evans (@missljevans).

I have a confession to make…I am slightly obsessed with Google Docs, thanks in large part to my colleague Charlotte.  What feels like years ago we discovered this cloud system and then we discovered the Forms section which is possibly one of the best things I have ever come across. (Yes, I have a tendency to over exaggerate!). This little survey style section has made so many parts of my teaching life easier, especially when it comes to writing tutor reports and so with a new Head of Department, new homework systems and my new responsibilities regarding reading I created a form focused on recording the students’ reading habits in a quick and easy way that requires very little effort from the teacher.

Each week the same link is sent out to all students in KS3 to complete.  They follow a series of questions: the first page asks for their English teacher and their year group, the second page asks them to select their name from the year group list (divided by tutor group/classes) and to answer the following questions.

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To begin with we wanted the students to complete this every day that they read, but in practise this expectation seemed unrealistic, so students are expected to complete it at least once a week.  As soon as they click submit their responses whizz off to a Google Docs spreadsheet which I then download as an Excel spreadsheet to our shared area every week.  It’s easy for individual teachers to search for their own classes and to see their students’ responses and latest read.

In theory this system is relatively straightforward, but of course how can we be sure that all students are definitely reading? The honest answer is, we can’t.  There is an element of trust involved in this form of homework, we have to trust that students will complete the forms and complete them honestly.  But just in case they don’t we have a few methods of checking/reminding them of the importance of reading and completing their homework.

  1. The teacher has access to the main spreadsheet of their responses and can show this to the students in class, can check to see how often students’ names appear and ask them questions about the books they have mentioned.  If a student isn’t completing the log the teacher can discuss this with them, recommend any books they might be interested in and – my favourite – take them on a trip to the school library to choose a selection of books they might enjoy.
  2. We mention the reading log at Subject Consultation Evening, occasionally it comes as a shock to parents that their daughter says she has been reading every night each week.  This can be effective but as some Subject Consultation Evenings aren’t until later in the year it can be a case of too little, too late.
  3. Each half term I look through the entire reading log and colour code each class: students in grey haven’t completed the sheet all term; red have completed it once; orange twice and green three times of more, as shown below.

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I email this out to all teachers during the holidays and it forms the basis of conversations with whole classes or individual students at the start of the new term.  This is my favourite part of the process as it clearly shows who has and hasn’t been doing their homework and it allows the teachers to easily see this without having to scan through the spreadsheet each week, something that can be difficult to do during some teaching weeks when things get hectic.  This can be a powerful way to have conversations with students and provides us with evidence so they can’t make excuses.  This can help us identify students who we might have missed when looking at the main spreadsheet during term time.

I have recently taken on a role focused on PPD students in English and as part of this I have told the department that I will speak to any PPD students who are grey or red, which means more trips to the library with students.  This has been successful in the past, especially if I agree to the read the same book and it makes me so happy when students who have barely read in the past few years appear at my classroom at the end of the day to tell me they have finished the book.

This is our first year trialling this means of homework and it has certainly made KS3 homework easier with less marking and it has provided a consistency across all teachers in the department.  This is by no means a flawless system – I have to remember to add new students to the right classes, what do we do about students who struggle with access to the internet, sometimes Google Docs doesn’t work on some phones, there are probably some students who slip through the net  – but these are issues that we can work on.  The best part of this homework is how much it encourages students to read and how it has opened so many positive conversations about books and recommended reads with students who perhaps weren’t reading much before and that’s one of my favourite parts of this job.

 

 

 

 

On homework that requires NO marking

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I love this dreamy painting by Perugini (although I’m yet to master reading a book where it remains open on the bit I actually want to read without holding it…). Perugini captures in oil that delicious feeling of being lost in a book. This girl is lost and she may or may not come back to herself soon to eat the fruit that sits, untouched, beside her. Who knows what’s going on around her: she doesn’t care.

I want the girls I teach to experience being truly, hopelessly, enviably lost in a book. That feeling when we just can’t put a book down and end up snatching time from elsewhere in our day to squeeze in a few more pages. That feeling when, as our eyes are glued to the page, the world around us and time slips by unnoticed. That feeling when you become so involved in a fictional world that when you finally do emerge you have a bit of a book hangover. That.

I am, however, a realist. I know that my world as a reader may seem alien to somebody not in the reading for pleasure club. This is especially true for students who can’t remember the last time they read a book let alone enjoyed it. If we want students to read for pleasure we must first make reading a habit and to do that we need to make reading regularly an expectation and a habit. Like most good habits, we need to be clear about the benefits of reading regularly (like brushing our teeth or exercising, reading IS good for us). If students build from reading as a habit to reading because they enjoy it then we have succeeded in signing up new members to the reading for pleasure club; I don’t think we’ll convince them of membership if we keep telling them how enjoyable reading is when that is likely not their experience of it.

That’s one of the reasons why we’ve set reading as homework for all of our KS3 students with the expectation that they read for 20 minutes every day. Another reason is that it requires absolutely no marking. I think we English teachers have quite enough to do without setting and marking homework (I also question the utility of lots of homework that is set and can’t abide teachers’ valuable time being spent chasing up homework and setting detentions). We’ve done away with traditional reading logs and now ask students to complete a Google Docs form (you can read more about this on my colleague Linda Evans’ guest blog here). Instead of marking, I ask teachers to track what their students are reading and have conversations with them about reading. I think it’s far more valuable for us to be having these conversations than marking traditional English homework.

The 20 minutes a day may seem arbitrary; it is based on research (Nagy & Herman, 1987):

Student A: Reads 20 minutes a day (3600 minutes in a school year and 1,800,000 words) and scores in the 90th percentile in standardised tests

Student B: Reads 5 minutes a day (900 minutes in a school year and 282,000 words) and scores in the 50th percentile in standardised tests

Student C: Reads 1 minute a day (180 minutes in a school year and 8,000 words) and scores in the 10th percentile in standardised tests

By the end of 6th grade, Student “A” will have read the equivalent of 60 whole school days. Student “B” will have read only 12 school days. Which student would you expect to have a better vocabulary? Which student would you expect to be more successful in school…and in life?

There’s something else I want for our girls too. I want them to have a rich vocabulary that will help them to understand and express sophisticated and nuanced ideas. We may hope that, through their reading, they’ll pick up great vocabulary but whilst that may be true for some students it won’t be true for all: the word rich get richer and the word poor get poorer (the Matthew effect). I want to go beyond hoping that students will pick up new vocabulary on their own to ensuring that they do. That’s why, inspired what they do at the Micahaela School and by this post by Jo Facer, we now have regular vocabulary tests.

At first, students and parents were a bit taken aback by the vocabulary lists which are unashamedly ambitious and academic. I had comments from parents that even they didn’t know all of the words that their 11 year old was being asked to learn. I had one or two complaints from parents of girls who were struggling with learning the vocabulary but we seem to have weathered the storm. My stance has always been that vocabulary empowers. The words we’re expecting students to learn will empower them to express ideas that they might otherwise be unable to do. We’ve also had a lot of positive feedback from parents who are impressed with the vocabulary their daughters are using in their work and in conversations around the dinner table (one year 7 student told her mum to stop being so belligerent…) and it has been lovely to see the vocabulary popping up in students’ writing and their analytical essays.

Following the example shared by Jo Facer, our vocabulary lists are made up of 45 words (15 adjectives, 15 verbs and 15 nouns) that we want them to master over the year. We have been testing students weekly building up from 5 specific words a week to 10 from anywhere on the list.

We test students’ understanding of the vocabulary and their spelling of it simultaneously by giving the synonym (on their lists) and, if they know the word, they have to spell it accurately e.g. What’s another word for aggressive beginning with b? To begin with it was rare for my students to get 5/5 but soon several in any given class would and we’d share effective strategies for learning vocabulary/spellings.
I share our vocabulary lists below which I put together with our set texts in mind e.g. our year 7 students might talk about the liminal existence of an itinerant worker (Of Mice and Men), our year 8s the loquacious Benedick (Much Ado) and our year 9s the candor of Carol Ann Duffy’s dramatic monolgues.

Year 7 list here.

Year 8 list here.

Year 9 list here.

KS4 list here.

 

 

On Paper 2 Section A

paper-2-cover

You can find my post about Paper 1 Section A here.

Back in December I attended AQA’s Effective Exam Preparation course for the new English Language GCSE. It was a really informative day and has been instrumental in helping me to design how we prepare our year 10 students for their English Language exam this Summer (I will blog at some point about why we’re entering year 10s for English Language a year early). This is a post to share what I learnt and approaches to answering Paper 2 Section A which you may want to use in your own classroom.

Paper Specific Booklets and Metacognition

One of the best takeaways from the course was the idea to create booklets using SAMS4. Every student in year 10 now has a Paper 1 and Paper 2 Booklet that includes SAMS4 source material and questions along with exemplar essays and mark schemes. We then use metacognition lessons to: model exam strategy; model how to write answers; unpick the AOS and the mark scheme; mark exemplar answers and to make note of important reminders e.g. to read ALL of the information available to them on the question paper. Students have responded really well to this approach.

Question 1

We want ALL of our students to get 100% in this question – a message which we have repeated throughout the year. This question, testing AO1, is placed first to ease students into the paper and is, on the face of it, pretty straightforward. However, if we don’t teach this question well, it is very easy for students to make silly mistakes and lose marks. It is important that we consider how a student might make this question difficult for themselves and prevent these pitfalls.

What we’re telling our students:

  • On the source, put a highlighted box around the lines you are being asked to answer about (this may seem silly but we want to do what we can to ensure students don’t answer about the wrong bit of the text – it also highlights pretty quickly students who struggle with ‘getting’ what the numbers down the side of the text are).
  • Highlight ‘shade the circle in the boxes’. I suspect this answer could be marked by a computer and I don’t want students to miss out on marks because they’ve made the silly mistake of ticking a box or put a cross in it.
  • When you read through the statements the first time, put a little dot next to the letter of the statements which you think are true.
  • Read the statements really carefully and cross reference with the text – sometimes it will be a small detail that can mean the difference between getting a mark or not.
  • When you’re happy you’ve selected the right four, shade the circles in the boxes.
  • Spend no more than 5 minutes answering this question and then move on.
  • If it helps, put the time you need to move on by.

2a-q1

Question 3

You may have noticed that I’ve skipped from 1 to 3 (if you didn’t, maybe it’s time for half term…). That’s because we’re advising students to answer Question 1 and then Question 3 before going back to Question 2. This may seem odd but Question 3 is about a single text whereas Question 2 and Question 4 are about both sources. It seems to make the paper a bit more manageable for students to do the two questions about one source first (though Question 3 may not be about the same source as Question 1).

As with Question 2 on Paper 1, we’re probably a bit more comfortable with this question than some of the others and it’s worth utilising our comfortability, and students’ natural inclination to make inference, to build students’ confidence that they’ve got this – they’ve been doing this sort of thing for years!

The AQA course leader made the point that this question is about making intelligent comments NOT identifying fancy techniques. Students can get top marks by exploring a word in depth – let’s not fall into the trap of over-complicating things.

What we’re telling our students:

  • This question is pretty much the same as Question 2 from Paper 1 – the same skills are being tested so if you can crack it in one paper you can do it in the other.
  • Put a highlighted box around the lines you are being asked to answer about.
  • This question doesn’t have any bullet points. It might be worth putting them in to remind you of the things the examiner is expecting you to write about: words and phrases; language features and techniques; sentence forms.
  • To write APES STOMP next to the bullet about ‘language features and techniques’ to remind yourself of SOME of the techniques that writers use (this is not an exhaustive list but a useful tool for lots of students and an acronym devised by Mrs KT @books4kooks).
  • Highlight the focus of the question e.g. to describe the storm.
  • Even though this is worth more marks than Paper 1 Question 2, 3 is still the magic number! Find three words or phrases that most grab your attention in relation to the question. What effects do these words/phrases have? Can you identify any techniques the writer has used in your selections?
  • The following are BANNED (they are vaque and could be made about ANY text):
    1. Makes the reader want to read on
    2. Puts an image in the reader’s mind (OF WHAT!?!?!?)
    3. Makes it interesting/engaging
    4. Makes it flow
  • Say a lot about a little. Don’t select things you don’t think you can explore – that’s the danger of feature spotting rather than picking things that grab your attention.
  • Fully explore the effect of the language used by the writer – what does it make the reader think, feel or imagine?
  • Spend no more than 10 minutes answering this question and then move on.
  • If it helps, put the time you need to move on by.

2a-q3

Question 2

I have already shared a post that includes some useful advice from Jo Heathcote for answering this question and question 4 which I picked up at the English PiXL conference at the end of January. You can find the post here.

This is not a comparison question – it is an AO1 task and is a test of basic comprehension. We need to avoid our students over-complicating this question.

What we’re telling our students:

  • This question tests you AO1 synthesis skills. Synthesis means bringing different things together; it does NOT mean compare.
  • Some useful linking language when writing about differences: In contrast / Whereas / However / Whilst / On the other hand / More / Less
  • Highlight details. The examiner wants to see you using quotations from both sources. As a rough guide, aim to use 2-3 quotations from each text.
  • What does summary mean? Remember to keep things succinct. You do not need to analyse the language devices of the quotations you select but you will need to make inferences.
  • Spend a couple of minutes writing a mini-plan. For each source make brief notes about the effects of the weather (or whatever the focus of the question is).
  • Can you summarise the differences in a word or phrases e.g the effects of the weather are long term in Source A and temporary in Source B.
  • Strategy 1 for structuring your answer: Statement – Quotation – Inference – Link – Statement – Quotation – Inference
  • Inference vocabulary: This suggests… This Implies… This conveys…
  • Spend no more than 8 minutes answering this question and then move on.
  • If it helps, put the time you need to move on by.

2a-q2

2a-q2-model
Here’s one paragraph we wrote as a class and then picked apart.

We picked up Strategy 2 for structuring answers by looking at this full mark exemplar and picking it apart.

student-example-1

student-example-2

Strategy 2 for structuring an answer: Source A Statement – Quotation – Inference x 2/3 then Source B Statement – Quotation – Inference – Difference x 2/3

Question 4

Unlike Q2, this is a comparison question and is about the writer though not just about what the writer is doing but what they are thinking, feeling, imagining and experiencing. It’s about the methods they use to show those thoughts, feelings, imaginings and experiences.

Just because the question says ‘whole of the source’, the students should NOT feel they need to write about everything that is there – they need to be selective. Selection is the key to success in the time that students have to answer this question. Students should ask themselves: What is the writer’s intention in each text? What message is each writer trying to give me?

  • Highlight compare – what comparative conjunctions might we use in our response?
  • What are synonyms for perspective?
  • Highlight methods – what are we being expected to write about?
  • Highlight references – remember that the examiner is expecting you to support your points with quotations.
  • Find 2 to 3 quotations from each text that you think show the writers’ perspectives. Challenge: Do the perspectives change through the text?
  • Plan your response by noting down these quotations and analysing/exploring the techniques the writers have used to convey their perspectives.
  • Are there some obvious pairings of quotations between Source A and Source B? Each pair will make for a comparative paragraph in your response.

2a-q4

2a-q4-2

I hope that proves helpful to other English teachers trying to wrestle with Paper 2 Section A though I suspect lots of it is familiar. If you have any questions or comments I’d be happy to respond.

 

On Lit Paper 1 Section B (19th Century) Question Stems

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AQA have said that they will not print any more sample assessment material for the new Literature GCSE. Although I can understand why, it does present us with the challenge of generating questions for our students. To help with this, I’ve created some question stems that can be adapted to create example questions. You can find my Paper 1 Section A (Shakespeare) Question Stems here.

You might want to use the question stems to create your own example questions by filling in the blanks or you may want to give them to your students so that they can write their own (finding relevant extracts from the novel to go with their question).

Regularly writing full essays is key to developing an analytical voice and developing strategies for thinking/writing in timed conditions. However, when there’s a bank of questions to choose from, students can gain a lot from engaging with example questions in a variety of ways.

How you might use these Questions Stems:

  • Use a lesson to do timed plans. Revisit an extract from the novel as a class and then display a question. Give students ten minutes to plan their response (you may want to model one with them first). Using the same extract, display another question and so on. The idea is to get students thinking more quickly and writing decent plans quickly.
  • When students have planned a response, get them to talk through their essay with a peer. What points would they make? How would they support them? How would they analyse the quotations they’ve selected? What links would they make to context? In discussion with their peer they can develop their arguments and perhaps consider alternative interpretations.
  • Plan a response together and then challenge the whole class to write the best introduction or one of the main paragraphs.
  • Show students a question without an extract. Which extract would be most useful to answering this question?
  • Show students an extract and get them to write their own question using the question stems. How many different questions did the class generate?

The Question Stems:

1.

Read the following extract from chapter [number] and then answer the question that follows.

In this extract [one sentence summary].

[INSERT EXTRACT]

Starting with this extract, how does [author] present [character name] as _______?

Write about:

  • how [author] presents [character name] in this extract
  • how [author] presents [character name] as ______ in the novel as a whole

2.

Read the following extract from chapter [number] and then answer the question that follows.

In this extract [one sentence summary].

[INSERT EXTRACT]

Starting with this extract, how does [author] create suspense?

Write about:
• how [author] creates suspense in this extract
• how [author] creates suspense in the novel as a whole

3.

Read the following extract from chapter [number] and then answer the question that follows.

In this extract [one sentence summary].

[INSERT EXTRACT]

Starting with this extract, write about how [author] presents the [adjective] relationship between [character name] and [character name].

Write about:

  • how [author] presents the [adjective] relationship in this extract
  • how [author] presents the [adjective] relationship between [character name] and [character name] in the novel as a whole

4.

Read the following extract from chapter [number] and then answer the question that follows.

In this extract [one sentence summary].

[INSERT EXTRACT]

Starting with this extract, write about how [author] presents [theme].

Write about:
• how [author] presents [theme] in this extract
• how [author] presents [theme] in the novel as a whole

5.

Read the following extract from chapter [number] and then answer the question that follows.

In this extract [one sentence summary].

[INSERT EXTRACT]

Starting with this extract, write about how [author] creates tension.

Write about:
• how [author] creates tension in this extract
• how [author] creates tension in the novel as a whole

6.

Read the following extract from chapter [number] and then answer the question that follows.

In this extract [one sentence summary].

[INSERT EXTRACT]

Starting with this extract, write about how [author] presents attitudes towards [group of people].

Write about:
• how [author] presents attitudes towards [group of people] in this extract
• how [author] presents attitudes towards [group of people] in the novel as a whole

7.

Read the following extract from chapter [number] and then answer the question that follows.

In this extract [one sentence summary].

[INSERT EXTRACT]

Starting with this extract, explore how [author] creates a sense of mystery.

Write about:
• how [author] creates a sense of mystery in this extract
• how [author] creates a sense of mystery in the novel as a whole

You might also be interested in my post on encouraging students to write essays people actually want to read here.

Link to Google Drive with Paper 2 Section A Question Stems: here.

 

On Lit Paper 1 Section A (Shakespeare) Question Stems

shakesepare

AQA have said that they will not print any more sample assessment material for the new Literature GCSE. Although I can understand why, it does present us with the challenge of generating questions for our students. To help with this, I’ve created some question stems that can be adapted to create example questions.

You might want to use the question stems to create your own example questions by filling in the blanks or you may want to give them to your students so that they can write their own (finding relevant extracts from the play text to go with their question).

Regularly writing full essays is key to developing an analytical voice and developing strategies for thinking/writing in timed conditions. However, when there’s a bank of questions to choose from, students can gain a lot from engaging with example questions in a variety of ways.

How you might use these Questions Stems:

  • Use a lesson to do timed plans. Revisit an extract from the play as a class and then display a question. Give students ten minutes to plan their response (you may want to model one with them first). Using the same extract, display another question and so on. The idea is to get students thinking more quickly and writing decent plans quickly.
  • When students have planned a response, get them to talk through their essay with a peer. What points would they make? How would they support them? How would they analyse the quotations they’ve selected? What links would they make to context? In discussion with their peer they can develop their arguments and perhaps consider alternative interpretations.
  • Plan a response together and then challenge the whole class to write the best introduction or one of the main paragraphs.
  • Show students a question without an extract. Which extract would be most useful to answering this question?
  • Show students an extract and get them to write their own question using the question stems. How many different questions did the class generate?

The Question Stems:

1.

Starting with this speech, explore how Shakespeare presents attitudes towards ________ in [play text].

Write about:

  • how Shakespeare presents attitudes towards _______ in this speech
  • how Shakespeare presents attitudes towards _______ in the play as a whole

2.

Starting with this speech, explain how far you think Shakespeare presents [character name] as ________.

Write about:

  • how Shakespeare presents [character name] in this speech
  • how Shakespeare presents [character name] in the play as a whole

3.

‘[Statement about a character]’

Starting with this speech, explore how far you agree with this statement.

Write about:

  • what [character name] says in this speech
  • how Shakespeare presents _____ in the play as a whole

4.

Starting with this speech, how does Shakespeare explore ideas about _______ in [play text].

Write about:

  • what [character name] says about _______ in this speech
  • how Shakespeare presents ideas about _______ in the play as a whole

5.

Starting with this conversation, explain how far you think Shakespeare presents [character name] as _______.

Write about:

  • how Shakespeare presents [character name] in this extract
  • how Shakespeare presents [character name] in the play as a whole

6.

Starting with this moment in the play, explore how Shakespeare presents [character name]’s use of ______.

Write about:

  • how Shakespeare presents [character name] at this moment in the play
  • how Shakespeare presents [character name]’s use of _______ in the play as a whole

7.

Starting with this speech, how does Shakespeare present [character name]’s feelings about _______?

Write about:

  • how Shakespeare presents [character name] in this speech
  • how Shakespeare presents [character name] in the play as a whole

8.

Starting with this speech, write about how Shakespeare explores [theme] in [play text].

Write about:

  • what [character name] says about [theme] in this speech
  • how Shakespeare explores ambition in the play as a whole

You might also be interested in my post on encouraging students to write essays people actually want to read here.

Link to Google Drive with Paper 1 A Question Stems: here.

On Paper 1 Section A (3 is the magic number)

three-is-the-magic-number

When it comes to Paper 1 Section A, 3 really is the magic number (except when answering question 1 of course…). This simple message is helping my students to quantify exactly what they need to do for each of the questions. I also enjoy the spontaneous burst into song whenever I say the words ‘3 is the magic number’!

Back in December I attended AQA’s Effective Exam Preparation course for the new English Language GCSE. It was a really informative day and has been instrumental in helping me to design how we prepare our year 10 students for their English Language exam this Summer (I will blog at some point about why we’re entering year 10s for English Language a year early). This is a post to share what I learnt and approaches to answering Paper 1 Section A which you may want to use in your own classroom.

Paper Specific Booklets and Metacognition

One of the best takeaways from the course was the idea to create booklets using SAMS4. Every student in year 10 now has a Paper 1 Booklet (Paper 2 to follow) that includes SAMS4 source material and questions along with exemplar essays and mark schemes. We then use metacognition lessons to: model exam strategy; model how to write answers; unpick the AOS and the mark scheme; mark exemplar answers and to make note of important reminders e.g. to read ALL of the information available to them on the question paper.

Students have responded really well to this approach. The best thing has been seeing elements of the metacognition lessons appearing in the answers students have written for their most recent Paper 1 Section A attempt – it’s fascinating to see what has stuck. I’ll be posting about the impact of these metacognition lessons soon…

 

cover-page-for-paper-1
Our Booklets

 

Assessment Objectives

The course leader shared some student friendly AOs which we have used to help us unpick the Assessment Objectives and make them more accessible for students. Once students have a good understanding of what skills are being tested it really informs their approach to different questions because they know which AO is being tested.

[Picture to follow – just tracking it down… bear with!]

Question 1

We want ALL of our students to get 100% in this question – a message which we have repeated throughout the year. This question, testing AO1, is placed first to ease students into the paper and is, on the face of it, pretty straightforward. However, if we don’t teach this question well, it is very easy for students to make silly mistakes and lose marks. It is important that we consider how a student might make this question difficult for themselves and prevent these pitfalls.

A useful activity, after looking at how to approach this question and then letting students select their four things, is looking at some seemingly plausible answers and discussing whether or not they think the examiner will award a mark. This helps students to, in the words of Jo Heathcote, understand how to ‘examiner proof’ their answers.

What we’re telling our students:

  • If it helps, rephrase the question to aid focus e.g. Things I learn about the bird in this extract are…
  • On the source, put a highlighted box around the lines you are being asked to answer about (this may seem silly but we want to do what we can to ensure students don’t answer about the wrong bit of the text – it also highlights pretty quickly students who struggle with ‘getting’ what the numbers down the side of the text are).
  • What is the focus of the question? What precisely are you being asked to select from the article?
  • The key word is ‘List’ – there’s no need to waste time on inference. You might be able to say all sorts of interesting things about the significance of the colour of the bird but you won’t gain any marks by including them here… sorry!
  • Use a pronoun at the start of every point e.g. It was black.
  • Spend no more than 5 minutes answering this question and then move on.
  • If it helps, put the time you need to move on by.

question-1-metacognition

Question 2

We’re probably a bit more comfortable with this question than we might be some of the others on the paper (ahem… Q3) and it’s worth utilising our comfortability, and students’ natural inclination to make inferences, to build students’ confidence that they’ve got this – they’ve been doing this sort of thing for years!

The AQA course leader made the point that this question is about making intelligent comments NOT identifying fancy techniques. Students can get top marks by exploring a word in depth – let’s not fall into the trap of over-complicating things.

What we’re telling our students:

  • Ignore ‘could’ above the bullet points and replace with ‘should’ (with the caveat that sentence forms may or may not be the most useful bits of evidence to explore).
  • To write APES STOMP next to the bullet about ‘language features and techniques’ to remind yourself of SOME of the techniques that writers use (this is not an exhaustive list but a useful tool for lots of students and an acronym devised by Mrs KT @books4kooks).
  • Think first: What is the effect? What are we being made to think, feel or imagine? Now think: How is the writer making me think, feel or imagine these things? Which words or phrases have they used to do this?
  • 3 is the magic number. Identify 3 words or phrases that make you think, feel or imagine something in relation to the question. What effects do these words/phrases have? Can you identify any techniques the writer has used in your selections?
  • The following are BANNED:
  1. Makes the reader want to read on
  2. Puts an image in the reader’s mind (OF WHAT!?!?!?)
  3. Makes it interesting/engaging
  4. Makes it flow

These statements are vague and could be made about ANY text

  • Say a lot about a little.
  • Spend no more than 10 minutes answering this question and then move on.
  • If it helps, put the time you need to move on by.


Question 3

There has been a lot of fuss about Q3 which I completely understand – I’m still getting my head around this one. Whilst I’ve seen fellow tweachers teaching their students terms such as anaphora, I don’t think this question demands that level of terminology (the AQA course leader said as much). Whilst we English teachers spent the last year fervently digging out fancy terms for analysing structure, the realisation has started to dawn that this question is much more about perspective and focus and movement (note my polysendetic list) than it is synecdoche, epizeuxis or chiasmus.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach students this language of structural analysis, and there will be times when it’s illuminating, but we shouldn’t be overloading students with this stuff just because of this question (especially given that it’s not warranted).

What we’re telling our students:

  • Where in a text is the source from? Why might this be significant? What does it tell us if this is taken from the beginning of a novel (for example)?
  • Ignore ‘could’ and replace with ‘should’ – these bullet points should guide your answer.
  • 3 is the magic number. You are going to write about three different ways in which the text is structured to interest you as a reader.
  • Whose view is the text written from? What time? Where?
  • What does the writer focus your attention on at the beginning (bullet one)? Why?
  • In a word, summarise what each of the paragraphs are about – what do you notice about the focus of each? Where does it shift? What’s the effect?
  • What else do you notice about the structure of the text? You might consider: connections and links across paragraphs; introductions and developments; reiterations; repetitions, threads, patterns, motifs; the sequence through the passage; narrative perspective; summaries and conclusions; outside to inside perspectives (vice versa) and movement from big to small (ideas/perspectives).
  • Spend no more than 10 minutes answering this question and then move on.
  • If it is helpful, write the time that you will need to move on by.

question-3-metacognition

Question 4

It’s very easy to over-complicated Question 4. If we boil it down, though, all students need to do is say how far they agree with the statement (from a limited scale of ‘a bit’ to ‘completely’) and explain why using evidence which they then explore.

What we’re telling our students:

  • On the source, put a highlighted box around the lines you are being asked to answer about.
  • You will likely AGREE with the statement that you have been given (though you may include one point about why you don’t entirely agree).
  • What are your first impressions? Is Alex struggling to cope and how do we know he is?
  • 3 is the magic number. Find three parts of the text that you can use to respond to the statement and write about them.
  • Plan your response. How do each of those parts of the text show that Alex is struggling to cope? What techniques does the writer use?
  • Do NOT include an introduction – this is a waste of time.
  • For some students, PEACH has been a useful acronym to structure their three paragraphs (I will track down who I can credit this idea to): P – Personal Opinion e.g. I agree that… E – Evidence e.g. This is clear when… A – Argue e.g. This suggests… However… CH – Choice of words e.g. The word ‘ghost’ has connotations of…
  • Spend no more than 2o minutes on this question (unless you’ve gained time from other Section A questions) and then move on. You MUST leave 45 minutes for Question 5.
  • If it helps, write when you need to move on by.

img_8961

I hope that proves helpful to other English teachers trying to wrestle with Paper 1 Section A though I suspect lots of it is familiar. If you have any questions or comments I’d be happy to respond.

My post on Paper 2 Section A  is here.

 

Group Analysis: Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

The English Magpie

16_08_25-snow-scene_web.jpgA combination of jigsawing and students on the move (though this time it’s the poem on the move) this activity gets the class working together to analyse a poem. You can either split the class into four groups (one for every stanza) or you can split them into eight groups. If you have a big enough class I think eight groups is a good idea because you will probably end up with a much wider response to the same poem and a few more original ideas. Though the two halves (four groups in each) will work independently from one another. Here is this lovely poem by Frost:

picture1.gif

 Here’s how the group analysis works:

  1. Give each group a copy of the poem (ideally on A3 with lots of room to annotate). Then give each group a responsibility for a stanza for which they must come up with 5 questions. These questions should…

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